The top star’s heel turn comes following a rough showing for the Raw roster at Survivor Series, where the red brand managed to notch only a single victory against their counterparts from SmackDown and NXT. The latter owned the night with four wins while SmackDown took home two victories.
Raw opened Monday with Rollins holding court in the ring, dressing down talent as they looked on from ringside. He berated them for dropping the ball and not trying hard enough until one-by-one they turned their backs on him and walked out of the town hall. He put blame on everyone’s shoulders but never shouldered any responsibility himself. With each tongue-lashing, it became increasingly clear that a seismic character shift was underway.
Everyone had cleared out from ringside with the exception of Kevin Owens. Rollins began berating him until he found himself on the receiving end of a stunner, to the delight of the near-capacity crowd. In classic pro wrestling style, it was announced they would settle their differences in the main event.
The match was going swimmingly until Akam and Rezar from AOP crashed the party. They stared down both men, teasing that an unbiased attack was coming. But Owens was the only one on the receiving end of their haymakers. Following the assault, Rollins looked puzzled momentarily, but WWE then doubled down on the heel turn by having him curb-stomp his helpless foe to close the show.
The about-face for Rollins has been coming for some time, as a smattering of boos from the WWE Universe had become commonplace whenever the former Shield member took the ring. Perhaps their unhappiness stems from a feeling that he was being forced upon them much the same way Roman Reigns and John Cena have been in the past.
Perhaps the Chicago crowd this night was upset that he continued taking shots at hometown hero CM Punk. Or maybe they were tired of him running down the competition on social media. Rollins has not been shy about voicing his opinion of rival promotions, referring to All Elite Wrestling as the “minor leagues” while also taking a shot at its top star Kenny Omega. There was also a very public Twitter spat with Will Ospreay in which he boasted of having a larger bank account than the New Japan and indie wrestling darling .
Whatever the reason for the fans’ discontent, it appears that his run as the top babyface on Monday nights is over. How and whether this affects the popularity of his real life fiancé, Becky Lynch, is unclear. The current Raw Women’s Champion is arguably the most recognizable and popular Superstar on the roster at the moment. She was also noticeably absent during Rollins’ tirade at the top of the show. It’s for the best, as the company has already reached its quota of relationship drama with the Lana-Rusev-Bobby Lashley love triangle.
What is clear is that this is for the best for both Rollins and WWE for a multitude of reasons. The turn freshens up the top of the card at a time when ratings continue to slowly erode. His run as a babyface champion did not bolster viewership. However, truth be told, any negative effect he had was also likely minuscule. The reasons fans have been tuning out extend far beyond any single talent, no matter how prominent they are.
The character switch also protects Rollins long-term. Unlike Reigns and Cena before him, who never turned heel, despite being booed mercilessly as the top good guys, Rollins will actually fall back into the good graces of fans by railing against them. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s the world of wrestling for you. They are getting what they want and now have a villain they can unabashedly jeer instead of a hero they could no longer cheer.
News and Notes
Xavier Woods told me recently that there is no clear timetable for his return from a torn Achilles tendon. “It could be five months. It could be nine months. There’s a lot of wiggle room,” he said. The full interview is forthcoming and details his rehabilitation process.
Alexa Bliss is scheduled to return to the ring at this Sunday’s WWE Starrcade live special on the WWE Network. She will be teaming with Nikki Cross in a Fatal 4-Way for the WWE Women’s Championship against Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley and Sasha Banks, and current tag champions The Kabuki Warriors.
Lana has reportedly reached a multi-year agreement to remain with WWE. To mark the occasion she patted herself on the back in a tweet. “I just signed a multi-million dollar deal with WWE!!!!!!!!!! Congrats!” she posted.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.